The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.
Understanding the McKinsey 7-S Model
McKinsey’s model applies to any situation where it is important to understand how the various parts of an organization interact with each other.
Within these interactions are the seven internal elements that McKinsey named, divided into categories, and classed as either “hard” or “soft”.
Hard elements are tangible and easy to identify. As a result, they are targeted for management with various strategies, plans or organizational templates.
- Strategy – detailing how an organization plans to build or maintain a competitive advantage.
- Structure – how the organization is structured from a management and departmental perspective. Common structures include hierarchical, centralized, and autonomous/outsourced.
- Systems – any process commonly found in daily business operations. For example, product development, manufacturing, or distribution.
McKinsey defines soft elements as less tangible and more difficult to describe than hard elements. They are also subject to change as corporate cultures and values evolve.
Let’s now look at the four soft elements:
- Shared values – these are often the core values of an organization that define its culture and the way it does business. Many regard shared values as the foundational building block for the other 6 elements in McKinsey’s model.
- Style – specifically, the management style of company leadership and the way that their behaviors and actions set the standard for other employees.
- Staff – this refers to the number of personnel in the company and their motivation, preparedness, and ability to successfully do their jobs.
- Skills – skills describe the talents of an organization’s staff. Skill level determines the level of achievement in the organization and whether such skills are aligned with its goals.
Using McKinsey’s 7-S Model in practice
When using the model in a business setting, it is important to understand that each of the seven elements is interdependent. In other words, adjusting one element alters the other six.
To use McKinsey’s model, businesses should:
- Analyze their shared values. Are they consistent with other elements such as structure and strategy? Remember: shared values determine the direction of the rest of the framework.
- Analyze their hard elements. Do they work in harmony or there is discord? What needs to change to bring them back into alignment?
- Consider whether their soft elements support their hard elements. Again, it is important to identify and address any misalignment of goals.
- Make adjustments throughout the process. The act of making frequent and sometimes complicated adjustments will require time and money, but the potential benefit of an aligned and strategic company is worth the expense.
- The McKinsey 7-S Model argues that there are seven internal elements of a business that need to be aligned for that business to be successful.
- Of the seven internal elements, three are ”hard” elements that are easy to identify and measure. The remaining four are “soft”, in that they are intangible and hard to quantify precisely.
- The McKinsey 7-S Model is an iterative and often resource-intensive process, but the potential benefits of using this model make it a worthy investment.
Other strategy frameworks
- Porter’s Five Forces
- Ansoff Matrix
- Blitzscaling Canvas
- Business Analysis Framework
- Business Model Canvas
- Blue Ocean Strategy